Treatment with potassium bicarbonate lowers calcium excretion and bone resorption in older men and women.
Bicarbonate has been implicated in bone health in older subjects on acid-producing diets in short-term studies.
The objective of this study was to determine the effects of potassium bicarbonate and its components on changes in bone resorption and calcium excretion over 3 months in older men and women. Design, Participants, and Intervention: In this double-blind, controlled trial, 171 men and women age 50 and older were randomized to receive placebo or 67.5 mmol/d of potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, or potassium chloride for 3 months. All subjects received calcium (600 mg of calcium as triphosphate) and 525 IU of vitamin D(3) daily.
Twenty-four-hour urinary N-telopeptide and calcium were measured at entry and after 3 months. Changes in these measures were compared across treatment groups in the 162 participants included in the analyses.
Bicarbonate affected the study outcomes, whereas potassium did not; the two bicarbonate groups and the two no bicarbonate groups were therefore combined. Subjects taking bicarbonate had significant reductions in urinary N-telopeptide and calcium excretion, when compared with subjects taking no bicarbonate (both before and after adjustment for baseline laboratory value, sex, and changes in urinary sodium and potassium; P = 0.001 for both, adjusted). Potassium supplementation did not significantly affect N-telopeptide or calcium excretion.
Bicarbonate, but not potassium, had a favorable effect on bone resorption and calcium excretion. This suggests that increasing the alkali content of the diet may attenuate bone loss in healthy older adults.
Supplementation with potassium did not significantly alter calcium excretion or markers of bone turnover in this study. This is in contrast to earlier reports of Lemann et al. (19) and Jones et al. (20) who found that increasing potassium intake decreased urinary calcium excretion. The apparently conflicting observation that higher potassium intake is associated with higher BMD in healthy perimenopausal women (21) may result from the fact that potassium-rich diets tend to be alkali-producing, in that they are rich in fruits and vegetables. Treatment with potassium did enhance sodium excretion, as has been documented widely.
In conclusion, we have found that reducing the acidogenicity of the diet into the alkali-producing range with bicarbonate lowers calcium excretion and the bone resorption rate in healthy older men and women consuming rather typical acid-producing American diets. Treatment with 67.5 mmol/d of potassium bicarbonate was safe and well tolerated in this population. Increasing intake of alkali merits further consideration as a safe and low-cost approach to improving skeletal health in older men and women.